Hang ups

14th April 1995 at 01:00
I was surprised to see DavidMellor, in the course of one of his weekly Guardian columns last year, refer to the "pointy ears of John Redwood". What was he suggesting? That the Minister of State for Wales resembled an alert cocker-spaniel? Or a noble steed, perhaps? Mr Redwood, the fine fetlocked thoroughbred; the rest of the Cabinet, a sad stable of old nags and potential stalking horses about to be put out to grass or summarily dispatched to the knackers yard? But then I read on.

Mr Mellor objected to the way his honourable friend was involving himself in the controversy surrounding Cardiff's new opera house, and said: "I didn't know they had such strong feelings about opera on the planet Zog, or wherever Redwood hails." There it was in black and white: the member for Putney believed that John Redwood was in fact a creature from outer space.

Mr Mellor is not the only one to think so. In Wales, the natives often confuse their governor-general with the USS Enterprise's Mr Spock. Indeed, so striking is the resemblance that, in the interests of political balance, I certainly hope to see the BBC voluntarily abandoning any plans to broadcast Star Trek in the weeks immediately preceding the local elections.

Like Mr Spock, Mr Redwood is famed for being brilliant. But sadly, his IQ probably far exceeds the sum total of friends he has made for himself in Wales. He has somehow managed to annoy his civil servants, Tory party workers, single mothers, Anglican clergy and the teaching profession. He says children in Wales underachieve, but unlike mere earthlings he doesn't jump to the naive conclusion that it might be something to do with his party's education policy. He says it's all because of teachers' low expectations.

And so, verily, it came to pass that Mr Redwood sent out a decree it's the sort of thing you can do when you're a governor-general commanding that in five years' time, one half of all GCSE candidates must gain top grades in maths, English (or Welsh) and science. That means they will have to perform almost twice as well as they are doing at the moment.

Teachers are a bit perplexed as to how they should set about achieving this, but then they don't have Mr Redwood's razor-sharp mind. He knows the answer. It's IT. He said as much in a speech at the Conservative Political Centre which was reported in The Times. Teachers who actually use computers might be sceptical but he insisted: "Our children have no doubt. They are dancing to the tune of Cyberspace."

Now, that's the sort of euphoric babble you'd expect to over hear at a coffee shop in Silicon Valley or on the pages of Wired (the style mag for cyberdudes) but not from a pinstriped front-bencher. He seems to think computers can work educational miracles: "Even French grammar can captivate if it is presented in colour on screen." If all it took to "captivate" children was a VDU and a splash of colour, they could be taught anything: relativity, quantum physics, or the Conservative Party's policy on Europe.

Mr Redwood also announced that he intended to spend Pounds 3 million putting the 1,800 primary schools in Wales on to the digital superhighway. There's a lot to be said for such extravagance, but how many teachers would regard access to the Internet as one of their top priorities? I suspect most would prefer if he used the Pounds 3 million to halt redundancies, shore up crumbling buildings or ensure that there will still be an educational advisory service when he has replaced Wales' eight counties with 22 tin-pot unitary authorities.

Without the support of IT advisers and advisory-teachers, rather than dance in cyberspace, Welsh pupils will be watching the dust settle on unused modems. But by then, Mr Redwood will have been sent to the knackers yard. Or back to Zog.

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